- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2006

TAYLORSVILLE, Miss. — Surrounding John and Ellen Shoemaker’s sprawling home are 60 picturesque acres, including a pond and horses grazing out front and woods in the back. It was perfect fall weather yesterday, perfect for football and deer hunting, two passionate pastimes here. But all the action was taking place inside, where it was standing room only.

Mr. Shoemaker fired up the grill, his wife laid out heaps of food, and about 20 adults, children and dogs gathered in the living room for a little party, a coming-out party for Taylorsville’s favorite favorite son.

Jason Campbell left here to star at Auburn and was chosen by the Washington Redskins with the 25th pick in the 2005 draft. He sat on the bench that season and the first nine games this year, but now he finally was starting his first game at quarterback for the Redskins.

“For a small town like Taylorsville, this is huge,” said Eric Jordan, who calls the high school’s football games on a small cable channel.

“It’s a big deal,” Mr. Shoemaker said. “I heard on ESPN Radio that Jason would start, and I called everyone I knew.”

That would be just about the rest of the town.

“It’s the best place in the world to live,” Mayor Larry Kelly said. “Everybody knows everybody. Everybody takes care of everybody else.’

But many of the 1,341 residents — Mr. Kelly said he just looked it up — were not taken care of by the Fox affiliate in Jackson, which broadcast the Atlanta Falcons-Baltimore Ravens game instead. To see Campbell play, residents needed a satellite dish, which most people here have, and the NFL Sunday Ticket package, which most do not.

Mr. Shoemaker had both. So with the dish zeroed in on the proper coordinates, Fox broadcaster Matt Devlin intoned that “the Jason Campbell Era begins right now in Tampa,” and a big cheer went up.

The crowd was disappointed with the 20-17 Redskins loss but not with Campbell, who flashed a strong arm and did not throw an interception. The consensus was that he played well.

Campbell was 19-of-34 for 196 yards and two touchdowns, settled right in to his role directing the offense, and showed he wasn’t afraid to take chances with the passing game.

“It’s as close to watching your son play as anything,” said Campbell’s high-school coach, Shannon White. “I had such a great relationship with him, and I still do. Auburn was big, winning the [Southeastern Conference] championship was big, but this is the NFL. It really hadn’t set in until today that he’s an NFL quarterback.”

“It’s pretty amazing,” Mr. Shoemaker said. “I watched him play on Friday nights and Saturdays [at Auburn] and now on Sunday.”

It was a sentiment shared in the living room and the entire town that Jason Campbell has remained unspoiled, true to his roots, and that his parents, Carolyn and Larry, are the main reasons.

Mary Musgrove, who was working behind the counter at Nita’s Quick Curb convenience store before the game, attended school in the nearby town of Mize, and Mr. Campbell was her science teacher.

“He was a good teacher, a good friend, and he helped a lot of people out,” she said, adding that the Redskins quarterback “has a real nice mother,” as well.

“A real good kid,” said Mitch Evans, who was Campbell’s predecessor at quarterback in high school. “He made good grades, he never got in trouble. I’m proud of him. He’s real humble. Even when he comes home, he speaks to everybody.”

Nita’s is on the edge of downtown, which encompasses all of two blocks. There is a new bank and post office and some retail establishments, but also several dilapidated, abandoned storefronts. It has practically become an out-of-business district.

And residents know just whom to blame.

“Wal-Mart,” snapped Nita’s owner, Malcolm Parker.

But Nita’s seems to be doing OK. It has three folding tables where the locals gather for coffee in the morning after deer hunting or simply to solve the world’s problems. Jars of pickled sausage, eggs and pig’s feet rest on the counter.

The object of Mr. Parker’s scorn sits 18 miles away in Magee, along with just about any fast-food restaurant you can name. Not here. Taylorsville doesn’t even have a stoplight.

But it is the home of the new starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins. Meanwhile, in Hattiesburg, Larry and Carolyn Campbell watched on TV. They were supposed to have traveled to Tampa but stayed home to rest their aching backs and gear up for their trip this week to Washington, where the Redskins play three straight games.

“He looks pretty comfortable,” Mr. Campbell said of his son over the phone at halftime. “The more first downs he gets, the more he’ll be in a zone, but right now, I think he’s doing all right. That’s his trademark. He’s poised and calm.”

After halftime, the announcer said, “For Jason Campbell, the future is now,” and then Campbell moved the Redskins on a long scoring drive and threw the first touchdown pass of his career. They all cheered again.

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